In the second of our three-part series on solo living, co-living, inter-cultural living, basically modern living, our columnist Sunaina Kumar documents the joys and travails of those in their 30s who have opted to live with flatmates and friends
That day at the cafe, a day not quite summer, not yet autumn in Delhi, a day for quiet reflection, my friend said, “If somebody had asked me ten years ago, I would not have imagined this life, that I would be 38, living with two flatmates and stressed about finding someone compatible to live with.”
She was between flatmates, a peril of modern living that’s known to leave you frantic. One of her flatmates, ideal in every way possible — she kept the kitchen clean, segregated the waste, paid her share of the bills, took responsibility for odd jobs, shared her milk carton, did not light candles — was moving out. Another friend quipped, “You’re looking for a flatmate, not a soulmate!” That’s all very well, but as anyone who has experienced co-living will tell you, finding the perfect flatmate can be higher up in the list of concerns than a soulmate.
And then there was the matter of the fridge. They bought it together a year ago. The flatmate had hinted she wanted to take it with her and offered to buy out my friend, who was not ready to let go of it. Since it could not be split into two, who does it belong to?
When Co-living Is More Than Just A Trend
In the last few years, some of my friends have moved out of the homes of their parents into their own spaces. They have a few things in common, they are women in their 30s, living in cities and earning well enough to be able to live independently. They have opted for communal living.
“I’ve always lived with people, either with my family or friends or roommates. For me, the idea of home is to come back to someone,” says a friend who lives with a flatmate in Mumbai. “I can come back and talk about my day at work, we can have a drink and watch something together, or I can shut my door and be by myself. I have the autonomy to live as I want and yet I also have the comfort of living with someone, without being burdened by expectations,” she says.
She was at a point where she needed to reset her life. She had ended a long relationship, come back to live in India after studying abroad and was unhappy in her job. She decided to move out of her parents’ home and find a place for herself. Rentals being what they are in Mumbai, she ended up looking for someone to share the cost of living.
“I’ve gained so much from the experience of living on my own. I’ve become surer of myself,” says my friend from Delhi, sitting in her living room, a common space that she shares with her flatmates, which she has done up with an eccentric mix of tchotchke, paintings, masks, maps, and lithographs, acquired from many different places. Her room has old-fashioned pieces of furniture made of teakwood and rugs and cushions in warm bright colours. “I changed many homes while growing up. Now I feel the need to fill up a space to call it my own. The more I get to know myself, the more the living room and my room become an expression of who I am.” Her flatmates are not interested in decorating and let her have the run of the space.
Can Co-living Be The Future?
Co-living is the future of housing, or so claim trend spotters. Last year, The Atlantic ran a story on ‘The Rise of Roommate Households’ in the United States, about adults who choose to share their homes with people other than family members or spouses. The trend of “doubled-up households”, a term that demographers use for adults who cohabit, is attributed to delayed marriages, the rising cost of housing and increasing popularity of sharing economy. It is also seen as a panacea to modern loneliness. Popular culture has taken note of it. Crashing, a series currently on Netflix takes the idea of a flat-share comedy and turns it on its head, as the characters end up co-living in a disused hospital in London lured by cheap rent.
In India, according to a Nielson survey of WSUs (a new class of wealthy single urbanites) single-person households have increased by about 35 percent between 2007 and 2017, mostly in urban areas. Property developers have caught on to the trend, with co-living startups taking off in different cities, for a generation of young Indians, who are increasingly mobile, with no fixed idea of home.
Though it is not limited to women, more women are likely to choose co-living than men in India, a conclusion that I have drawn anecdotally from the number of women who bring up security as an incentive for house sharing. India has the largest number of single women in its history, with over 50 million, according to census data of 2011. To be a single woman in India and to live independently is not an anomaly anymore. More women are financially independent and able to decide how they want to live. My friend suggests, “Women are good at living with others.”
Sunaina Kumar is an independent journalist based out of Delhi. She writes on issues of social justice, development and gender. Sometimes she likes to think and write about other things.